Mon | Sep 20, 2021

A tale of two clinics: Lines in Kenya, few takers in Atlanta

Published:Tuesday | September 14, 2021 | 12:08 AM
Kenyans queue up to receive the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi on August 26.
Kenyans queue up to receive the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi on August 26.


Several hundred people line up every morning, starting before dawn, on a grassy area outside Nairobi’s largest hospital hoping to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Sometimes the line moves smoothly, while on other days, the staff tells them there’s nothing available, and they should come back tomorrow.

Halfway around the world, at a church in Atlanta, two workers with plenty of vaccine doses waited hours on Wednesday for anyone to show up, whiling away the time by listening to music from a laptop. Over a six-hour period, only one person came through the door.

The dramatic contrast highlights the vast disparity around the world. In richer countries, people can often pick and choose from multiple available vaccines, walk into a site near their homes and get a shot in minutes. Pop-up clinics, such as the one in Atlanta, bring vaccines into rural areas and urban neighbourhoods, but it is common for them to get very few takers.

In the developing world, supply is limited and uncertain. Just over three per cent of people across Africa have been fully vaccinated, and health officials and citizens often have little idea what will be available from one day to the next. More vaccines have been flowing in recent weeks, but the World Health Organization’s (WHO) director in Africa said on Thursday that the continent will get 25 per cent fewer doses than anticipated by the end of the year, in part because of the roll-out of booster shots in wealthier counties such as the United States.

Bidian Okoth recalled spending more than three hours in line at a Nairobi hospital, only to be told to go home because there weren’t enough doses. But a friend who travelled to the US got a shot almost immediately after his arrival there with a vaccine of his choice, “like candy,” he said.


“We’re struggling with what time in the morning we need to wake up to get the first shot. Then you hear people choosing their vaccines. That’s super, super excessive,” he said.

Okoth said his uncle died from COVID-19 in June and had given up twice on getting vaccinated due to the length of the lines, even though he was eligible due to his age. The death jolted Okoth, a health advocate, into seeking a dose for himself.

He stopped at one hospital so often on his way to work that a doctor “got tired of seeing me” and told Okoth he would call him when doses were available. Late last month, after a new donation of vaccines arrived from Britain, he got his shot.


The disparity comes as the US is moving closer to offering booster shots to large segments of the population, even as it struggles to persuade Americans to get vaccinated in the first place. President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans, including private-sector employees, as the country faces the surging COVID-19 Delta variant.

About 53 per cent of the US population is vaccinated, and the country is averaging more than 150,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day, along with 1,500 deaths. Africa has had more than 7.9 million confirmed cases, including more than 200,000 deaths, and the highly infectious Delta variant recently drove a surge in new cases as well.

The head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, insisted that rich countries with large supplies of coronavirus vaccines should hold off on offering booster shots through to the end of the year and make the doses available to poorer countries.